Despite support for the death penalty and the Iraq war, the Religious Right consistently claims to be pro-life. And while advocates of these positions are often able to pull out Scripture passages as support, there is another growing pro-death policy that seems completely indefensible.
Religious Right leaders are opposing the use of a vaccine that could save the lives hundreds of thousands of women worldwide. Additionally, they are attacking Rick Perry, Texas’s conservative Republican governor, for taking action to ensure that no young Texas women die from a preventable form of cancer.
Perry issued an executive order requiring girls to receive a vaccine to protect against strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, declared, “I’m shocked that Rick Perry would do this.”
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins argued, “Much to the dismay of Texas conservatives, Perry’s state will become the first to require the vaccine.”
And Concerned Women for America President Wendy Wright denounced Perry’s action as “an outrageous assault on girls and their parents.”
Why would pro-life Christians oppose such life-saving measures? Because HPV is contracted though sex, and these Christian leaders fear the vaccinations would then encourage young women to become promiscuous. In this mindset, preventing sex becomes the first priority, even over saving lives.
Perkins argued that since “HPV is transmitted through sexual contact,” it is “much harder for schools to justify mandating the vaccine as a requirement of public school attendance.”
Apparently, Christians should only support saving the lives of teenagers who do not have sex outside of marriage.
Thus, it seems that the dominant position for many conservative Christians is not being pro-life but actually being anti-sex. After all, CWA’s Wright claimed that Perry’s action required “little girls to be shot with a sex virus vaccine.”
Tragically, this extreme anti-sex ideology may be a death sentence for some women who have committed no sexual sin. Consider the woman who faithfully waits until marriage only to get HPV from her husband who did not wait. This faithful Christian woman could be given a death sentence because of the anti-sex policies of the Religious Right.
Consider the woman who is raped and given HPV. This innocent woman could be given a death sentence because of the anti-sex policies of the Religious Right. The case of rape by a parent or close relative undermines the argument of Religious Right leaders like Land and Perkins that getting the vaccine should only be the decision of the parents.
Or consider the woman who grows up in a non-Christian home but after a few years of unfulfilling sexual activity repents and begins to live a godly life. Shortly after beginning her new life she discovers she has cervical cancer. This new Christian woman could be given a death sentence because of anti-sex policies of the Religious Right.
Even if none of these cases were true and every woman who got cervical cancer from HPV was unrepentant and promiscuous, should they be denied a life-saving vaccine? What is really more important: stopping promiscuous sex or saving lives? What should the Christian response be? Should we cast the first stone because the women deserve death?
Supporting the HPV vaccine does not mean one condones promiscuous sex, but that one is strongly for saving lives. And giving the vaccine will does not mean one will be encouraging teenagers to engage in sex.
Perry referred to the already required Hepatitis B vaccine as he argued: “Providing the HPV vaccine doesn’t promote sexual promiscuity any more than providing the Hepatitis B vaccine promotes drug use.… If the medical community developed a vaccine for lung cancer, would the same critics oppose it claiming it would encourage smoking?”
Additionally, supporting this vaccine should not sound the death knell of abstinence teaching. After all, single teenagers should wait until marriage not because sex may kill them but because that is what God desires. Perhaps instead of trying to scare young people from having sex, the focus should be on the positive benefits of waiting.
The late Catholic Cardinal Joseph Bernardin argued for a pro-life perspective called a “seamless garment of life.” It is time to head his prophetic call for moral consistency. It is time to challenge the Religious Right’s false claims of being pro-life. And it time for Christians to focus less on being anti-sex and more on actually being pro-life.
Brian Kaylor is communications specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.
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